How far can compassion go?

As we traveled to the Gateway of India today, I was shocked and moved by the number of homeless children wandering the streets alone. Although we had encountered beggars before, we mostly saw people banging on our window asking us to buy books or adults constantly pestering us. I have been trained to just ignore and put your head down as I walk past. The Gateway of India is one of the largest tourists attractions in Mumbai, and consequently full of tourists unaccustomed to beggars and more likely to give. For some reason today I was completely moved to help these young children on the street. As the older girl, with a young baby in arms, and her sister approached us, unsuspecting, she started carrying on a conversation with Jessica. At first I was confused. Just another beggar asking for money. However, as we shooed them away, they politely followed us to the bus. Hesitantly they asked the whole group for a little food, but didn’t pressure anyone with constant badgering.

With my limited Hindi, I asked for their names. She responded and I finally felt that we built some sort of personal connection. Although I didn’t have food or money to give them, they stayed just to be around us. Michael came up with packages of bubbles, meant for me as a birthday gift, but instead the girls seemed so intrigued by them. I handed over the bubbles as a small way to care. The younger girl took the bubbles quickly and dove right in. The older sister, who was holding the baby, looked enviously at the bubbles. Michael handed me another pack of bubbles as “a gift” after I had given the original away. The older girl held her hand out and grabbed the bubbles. As she struggled to open the bottle with the baby in arms, surprisingly I grabbed the baby out of her hands.

Usually, I’m not the type to touch babies, especially ones that I don’t know at all and off the street. However, something about the moment completely overtook me as I stood with a random baby in my arms in the middle of the sidewalk. Nearby people stared at me as if I was doing something completely unacceptable, but I had no idea how to act in the situation. My gut intuition told me that I was the right thing to help this young girl, no older than 12, no older than my own younger sister. Rocking the baby back and forth, I watched the younger girls playing with the bubbles--a break from their stressful lives. I wonder how much fun they can actually have as they struggle to find food for the next meal. When the bus arrived, I handed the baby back to the girl, but let her keep the bubbles, my one attempt to help her.

Is it really enough to be kind to someone? Could she sense my compassion if I didn’t actually help her with her real life struggles? Should I have given her money anyway after I took away her baby sibling? Did she want to play with the bubbles or actually have food to eat? There will never be the right answer, but it’s great to at least care. I wonder with all the work we did, was it enough? We all honestly cared about the cause, but how can that care translate to help that people actually want?  However, I am sure that through our interactions, I have thought more. The same is true for the Niswarth program. The most meaningful moments for me are when I have some community interaction that bridges the gap between reality and me.

As I piled into the bus, she asked for milk, something I couldn’t provide. That is when you realize that you might not ever be able to do anything.